Living in the Southwest, there are some lurking desert dangers to our pets that you should know about; especially before anyone sets a paw or a foot outside the door. Whether you’re roaming the wilds of rural Texas, or venturing west toward Arizona, New Mexico, or California, you’ll want to bone up on the dangers of the desert.
Rattlesnakes, Coyotes, and Pigs, Oh My!
While the dangers of rattlesnakes have been amply illustrated by Hollywood for decades, the dangers of roving packs of coyotes and peccaries (wild pigs) aren’t as well known.
Coyotes are wild dogs prevalent all over the southwest, although their range now extends well into Canada, and coyotes have even been found in New York City. In most places they are merely a nuisance; in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and other southwestern states, they can be deadly to your pet.
To avoid coyote confrontations remember:
- Never let your pet roam off-leash in the desert
- Don’t walk down arroyos and dry washes
- Coyotes have been known to jump urban walls and carry off small dogs and cats, don’t take anything for granted
- While coyotes will normally not attack a human, they can
- Coyotes can carry rabies, just like any other wild mammal
- If you encounter a coyote or coyotes, keep your pet very close to you, and go the opposite direction immediately. If they persist, take cover if possible. If not, you can try shouting and throwing rocks
- Never, ever approach or try to feed or pet a coyote
Javelina (pronounced hav-a-LEEN-as) are peccaries and resemble wild pigs. They are prevalent in the desert southwest, especially in southern Arizona and New Mexico. Javelina typically live in herds of anywhere from three to twenty individuals.
Both males and females are confrontational, omnivorous, ill-tempered, have wicked tusks, and can easily kill your pets if they corner them. Like bears, javelina are attracted to garbage and food, and are quickly habituated to human dwellings.
To avoid javelina confrontations practice the same techniques as for coyotes: stay out of washes, keep your pets on-leash, never try to pet or feed a javelina, and go the other way if you see them. You may also want to avoid walking at night.
Cholla, the Rattlesnake of the Plant World
Cholla (pronounced CHOY-ya) cactus looks fluffy, but each pod is composed of thousands of wicked, barbed spikes that go in but don’t easily come out. Nor can they plucked off with your hand, dug out with a knife blade, or flipped off with sticks. Know what cholla looks like before you venture out, and give it a wide berth. (Never stroll or ride through a cholla forest for any reason. You will have vicious cholla pods all over yourself and your pet in seconds!)
When hiking in cholla territory, carry a pair of metal salad tongs of the type that resemble scissors with round metal ends. Grasp the pod firmly and pull hard, making sure that you fling the pod well away from your pet, yourself, or your companions. Removing cholla hurts, and the spot will continue to be sore for several hours. Thankfully, additional medical treatment is rarely necessary.
If your pet does get into cholla cactus, do not pick up your pet unless absolutely necessary, do keep calm (both of you), call for help if possible, and remove the pods – but please, don’t let your pet try to remove cholla with his or her mouth.
Garden Variety Desert Dangers
Somewhat less exciting but still nasty encounters possible when visiting the desert include:
- Scorpions – If your pet likes to root around under sticks and rocks, he or she could get stung by a scorpion. Depending on the type of scorpion and your dog’s general size and health, this may be dangerous. Call the nearest veterinary clinic or pet emergency center and follow instructions.
- Hawks and owls – Believe it or not, large red tailed hawks and some owls will carry off small dogs and cats. Nothing much you can do to prevent this except keep your small pet indoors or on a leash at all times.
- The heat – Make sure your pet has shade, fresh water, and never take a dog hiking in the heat unless you already know the terrain. Heat stroke kills pets every year in the desert. Of course never leave a pet in a car unattended.
Now That You’ve Decided to Visit Miami Instead…
Despite the desert dangers listed here, the desert southwest is an exciting, mostly safe, and rewarding adventure for people and pets alike, so if you are planning a trip in this direction, let us know. We’ll advise you on pet-safe activities, and help if you do run into trouble.